Last week I mentioned that my family lost someone very special. This week I want to pay tribute to that person my way. Sunday, July 8, 2012, I lost my grandfather, my Pawpaw. He was eighty-two years old.
I came into this world with four men who called themselves my grandfather, but only one who would really be my Pawpaw. He spoiled me, he taught me to love music, and he loved me like few have. One thing I have noticed is that people take that whole “do not speak ill of the dead” thing very seriously. Contrary to what they tried to say at the funeral service, Pawpaw was no saint. He had his faults, just like anyone else. When I die, I do not want my faults swept under the rug. For all of our faults, we have things about us that are good too, and Pawpaw was very much like that.
He loved music. He loved having a good time. He was a sharp dresser, specifically requesting to be buried in his infamous purple suit. He was also very proud of the fact that few people guessed his true age. He was young at heart and in truth, he was ready for death, whenever it may decide to come. I did not need a preacher to tell me that. He told me himself, last year when we found out about the cancer. He and I were driving to the drugstore to get his prescriptions, just the two of us in my mustang. I will never forget that conversation, and I think it was how I kept calm through most of the illness. He was calm, like he was prepared for whatever the higher powers were about to throw at him. And he said that he was glad it was him and not one of us. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Pawpaw was in the Korean war, but he did not want a military funeral. Instead, there was bluegrass played at the gravesite. The flowers from the family were purple and a dusky pink. Three daughters, even if two were not by blood, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. It was six, but that changed Wednesday with the arrival of my new nephew, who came two months early. The son named for my brother arrived on the same day as the viewing at the funeral home. He was a day old when Pawpaw was lowered into the ground.
At the church, the preacher upset me a little because it seemed that he talked more about how Jesus Christ was the only way I would ever see Pawpaw again than about the man Pawpaw was. To my family who probably could not handle the truth, nothing will ever be said, but I know in my heart that the goddess kept me strong through this. She is the one who gave me the strength and she is the one who will see that I walk beside Pawpaw in the summer lands. But for right now, I rest easy in the knowledge that he is there already, playing music, maybe with some of the legends like Elvis or Johnny Cash, and enjoying his time until we meet again. For the better part of the last eight months, he was on a downward slope, trapped in the prison of his failing body. He was not the man we all knew and loved and for me at least, it was a relief to see him set free.
All week, I have been hearing his voice, seeing his face lifted in a smile. He used to walk around his and Mawmaw’s house humming or singing, all the time. I’ll never forget hearing him right before the back door to the house open and shut. He loved his guitars, he loved his music, and he loved his family. When you’d say something to him and the way he’d say “Say what?” has been in my mind all week too. I hope that voice, those words and songs, never fade from my memory.
For me, the saddest part in this entire deal is the knowing that he will not see my wedding, or meet my children, who he probably would have loved and spoiled rotten. Bear and I decided a long time ago that our wedding colors would be our colors from junior and senior prom. Purple and gold. He would have loved that.
His final lesson for me was to not take anyone for granted. Losing Pawpaw was expected but still a surprise. Somewhere in my mind, I thought he would be here forever, I think. He was dancing like a young man at his eightieth birthday. He danced at his eighty-second, which was a blessing in and of itself. I heard Mawmaw say at some point during all of this that she never thought he would go this soon. She thought he would make it to his 90s. I think we all did.
It’s funny how things work out. A story that has been going around the family for the past week has been of what happened the moment that Pawpaw took his last breath. One of my great-uncles wears shoes that are too big, and he was walking across the floor of the hospice house, making a lot of noise. Mawmaw, his sister, was glaring at him of course. Especially when he did a little dance, right there in the middle of Pawpaw’s room as he was taking his last breath. He did his little dance and then turned to someone and said “How’d you like that?” I was not there, but to hear the story told, it was almost like it was a distraction, something to make the family laugh when their hearts were being ripped out. Someone suggested that Pawpaw whispered to my uncle “Hey, distract them!” Another suggested that an angel acted through my uncle. I like to think both are true. It seemed fitting that Pawpaw would only take his last breath as someone danced and made people laugh.
Never take loved ones for granted. Even if you think they will be here for many more years, you just never know. A year ago from the time he was lowered into the ground, none of us had a clue that anything was wrong. We did not know what was coming, or that he wouldn’t be here in a year. No one but the higher powers know that kind of thing. Live for today, because tomorrow may never come is not just a cliché. And always believe that the ones you lose, you will find again. I have to believe that. You hear that Pawpaw? I have to believe that we will meet again. Goddess willing, I will be an old woman by then, but we will walk together again. And you will have to show me those chords on the guitar again. Hopefully in the summer lands I will not have to remind you of the title to “Amazing Grace” as often when we play.
I write this here because it’s how I say it best. Pawpaw, I love you. My kids will know your name. Wait for us, wherever you are now.